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‘Marquette 4’ defendants sue city over wrongful convictions

Lashawn Ezell and Larod Styles at a press conference last year after charges against them were dropped. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

Four men who were imprisoned as teenagers for a 1995 double-murder, before fingerprint evidence cleared them, have filed a federal lawsuit that claims the Chicago Police condoned the use of coercive tactics to bully false confessions out of young suspects.

LaShawn Ezell, Troshawn McCoy, Charles Johnson and Larod Styles on Monday filed lawsuits naming 13 Chicago Police officers involved in their interrogation for the murders of car lot owners Khalid Ibrahim and Yousef Ali. Prosecutors last February dropped charges against the four men, who had been dubbed the “Marquette Park 4” during their lengthy post-conviction legal battles.

Ezell, who was arrested in 1995 at age 15, spent 10 years in prison on an armed robbery conviction, while McCoy was sentenced to 55 years, and Styles and Johnson both received life terms. The four men, all now in their late 30s, stood together with their lawyers at a press conference Monday at the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University law school.

Styles told reporters he hoped to become a public speaker and work with youth.

“At age 16 I was imprisoned for a crime I didn’t commit and it was horrific,” said Styles, who said his parents died while he was in prison. “I want to do something with the community. I want to help young kids learn how to fight the judicial system.”

The lawsuits, each about 30 pages, detail the marathon interrogations for the four teens. Ezell, the youngest of the quartet, was 15 at the time of his arrest, and Johnson was the oldest at age 19. The officers handling the questioning included James Cassidy and Kenneth Boudreau, veteran detectives who had obtained confessions in multiple cases where other evidence would eventually show the suspects were innocent.

The teenagers were not allowed to talk to lawyers or their families, and were in some cases tricked into signing confessions after being told they were just putting their names on routine paperwork before they could be released, the lawsuits states.

A judge in 2006 ordered a review of fingerprint evidence using a law enforcement database that didn’t exist at the time of their conviction. The results showed no prints from the four teens, but did turn up those of a convicted drug dealer who had argued with Ibrahim and Ali over a car sale not long before the murders.

All four men have been granted certificates of innocence, a finding by a judge that they were actually innocent of the crime, which allows them to expunge their arrests and convictions from their criminal records.

All charges against Lashawn Ezell, Charles Johnson, and Larod Styles (front, left to right) were dismissed in connection with a 1995 double murder and armed robbery. Here, the men appear at a news conference in 2017 after the charges were dropped. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times